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Mashrou Leila: Raasük
Lebanese band, Mashrou Leila, are back with their third studio release, Raasük. Since forming in 2008, the band released a self titled album in 2009 and El Hal Romancy in 2011. Over the years, the popular group has performed relentlessly both in their homeland and throughout the Middle East, building an impressive following and solid reputation for pushing cultural boundaries.
In classic rock tradition, Mashrou Leila continues their rebellious struggle against the powers in control of the Arab art industry. Striving to avoid a corporate hand in their own music, earlier this year, they resorted to crowd funding through the popular website Zoomal, aiming to raise a minimum of $66,000 to cover studio fees for their new album, music videos, promotion and several shows around the world. Having grown sick of the state of mainstream Arabic music, and with the release of Raasük, Mashrou Leila work to spread the slogan #OCCUPYARABPOP to hype up their ideology.
Literally translated, the album's title means 'they made you dance'; a phrase used throughout, both as a political metaphor and in the literal sense. Spanning 39 minutes, Raasük is the longest album release from a band that barely passed the 20 minute mark in El Hal Romancy.
Despite being recorded in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Montreal, Raasük retains an unexpectedly similar sound to their preceding albums. Stylistically speaking, while the structure of the songs largely remains the same, the new album features an increased use of keyboards, electronic sounds, multi-layers and previously non-existent horns.
Opening the first track, 'Prologue', Swiss-French trumpeter, Erik Trufazz, caresses listeners with a mellow, minute and a half solo. He appears again on the airy, dreamy closing track blowing an edgy sound to 'Bahr'. Evoking scenes of wind and water, the words are a lament dedicated to a brother lost at sea, who is now "owned by the waves, where inside them he bewails."
Predictably, the band doesn't break away from their iconic lyrical subjects of love, sexuality, and remarks on a troubled society. Political struggle is another theme that is prevalent throughout the album; the title song itself is a vintage anthem drenched with Moog tones, symbolically infused with authoritative figures that choreograph the masses to do their bidding.
Openly gay singer, Hamed Sinno, never ceases to touch on the sensitive issue of homosexuality. Starting with some clowning country fiddle, 'Skandar Maalouf' gets raunchy with its bass and organ-driven groove, smothered with falsetto vocals telling of a lustful man's wish to attract another, only to feel shunned by the public.
Played in Mashrou Leila's familiar Balkan style, 'Abdo' is a melancholic tale about an everyman who falls celibate after facing rejection from a widow, all whilst becoming the talk of his neighbourhood. The music, particularly Haig Papazian's reminiscent violin, descends to sound like the manic accompaniment to a dark circus. On similar grounds, metaphorically intense and desperate, 'Ma Tetrikni Haik' is a man's plea not to be abandoned by his lover. Minimalistic, the song features nothing more but a sombre synthesizer lending its services to Sinno's morose voice.
Although it's clear Mashrou Leila have made a conscious effort to push their boundaries in Raasük, the band fails to truly break free from their comfort zones. Praise remains to the fact that, whatever twists they add to their music, Mashrou Leila's spirit stands firm; filled with immense pain from staring at the face of harsh Arab reality.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, ‘Flying To Berlin/Husbands’, Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same.
This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn’t always a good thing.
The opening track, ‘The Answer’, heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words “If you don't love me/You don't love anybody” throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth’s sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record.
That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song ‘Adore’. It’s slow, it’s bassy, it’s reverby (is that even a word?) it’s dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016.
Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, ‘T.I.W.YG’, is almost a sequel to ‘The Answer’ in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love.
For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.